State and Religion in Turkey and Abroad

By: Symeon Giannakos  

Turkey has been perceived as a secular state for a long time. As more and more commentators and scholars are raising questions about secularism in Turkey, this perception is eroding, and it is being replaced by the perception that Turkey is becoming Islamized. This paper argues that neither perception has been reflective of reality. Religion in Turkey has been subordinate to the state and has been used as a political tool by different governments and at a varying degree and scope, and always to the detriment of religious diversity. While the state and government have been relying on the Sunni majority for political expediency, the rights and status of religious minorities like the Alevis, Shi’ites, Christians and Jews wax and wane depending on the political agendas of successive governments. The subordination and use of religion for political purposes is manifested by the status of the Directory for Religious Affairs (Diyanet) created in 1924 and has of late been given resources and authority to operate outside Turkey. In fact, a number of sources argue that the Diyanet budget is now larger than that of most ministries. Since the Diyanet orientation and composition is exclusively Sunni, the other religious affiliations are either ignored or suppressed at the detriment of both secularism and religious diversity. For that reason, religious diversity in Turkey will not be a reality until the state adopts a truly secular stand, does not use religion as a political tool, and be equidistant from all religious affiliations.

Statism Nationalism Religion
Community Diversity and Governance
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Symeon Giannakos

Symeon A. Giannakos is Professor and Director of the Graduate Program in International Relations at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island. He is a 2011 Fulbright Scholar to Albania. He received his Ph.D. in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia in 1990 and he teaches courses in international relations and comparative politics with a concentration on nationalism and ethnic conflict, and ethics and international affairs. He spent nearly five years (1993-1998) overseas, conducting research and offering courses in international and comparative politics of the Balkan region to East European students at the American University in Bulgaria. He has also taught at Norwich University in Vermont (1990-1993), at Washington and Lee University in Lexington Virginia (1998-1999), and at Ohio University (1999-2002). His research focuses on national identity and conflict as well as on Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean Affairs. He has published a number of articles and book chapters on the same topic and he is the editor of Ethnic Conflict: Religion, Identity and Politics (2002).